Improving water quality from source to sea

Natural Course is working closely with the Turning Tides partnership and their LOVEmyBEACH campaign to help improve rivers and bathing waters across the North West.

It is often said that rivers are the arteries of our planet. This is particularly the case when considering the impact that rivers have on our oceans. Our rivers run right across the country picking up pollution and litter along the way which eventually ends up in the sea. Research has shown that as much as 80% of litter found on beaches has travelled from land, often via the rivers network.

Standing between our rivers and our seas are some of the UK’s favourite summer spots, our bathing waters. Bathing waters are designated stretches of the sea, a lake or river that are popular swimming or paddling areas. But the UK’s bathing waters have not always been toe-dipping friendly.

Between May and September each year the Environment Agency monitors the level of bacteria in the water as per the Bathing Water Directive. Up to four years of results are combined and each bathing water beach is given one of the following annual classifications:

  • Excellent – the highest, cleanest class;
  • Good – generally good water quality;
  • Sufficient – the water meets minimum standards;
  • Poor – the water has not met the minimum standards.


In 2012, 18 bathing waters in the North West were predicted to be designated Poor ecological status and were at risk of being closed to bathers. In response to this, the Turning Tides partnership was set up to bring together organisations with a common goal of improving the North West’s bathing waters, including United Utilities, Environment Agency, NFU, Local Authorities and Keep Britain Tidy.

The contributing factors to the 18 ‘at risk’ bathing waters were extremely varied however the rivers that run through the varied North West landscape were essential to scrutinise as they transported urban and rural diffuse pollution from source to sea.

The weather in the North West doesn’t help either – during times of heavy rainfall, faecal material from fields and sewage systems overflow and drain into rivers and streams, polluting the water that flows out into the estuary.

In 2016, for the first time, all 31 bathing waters met bathing water standards, with a repeated positive result in 2017. This improvement is a real demonstration of the impact of partnership* and taking a catchment-based approach to improving water quality. The partnership is cited by Defra as a model of best practice.

The Turning Tides Partnership now has ambitions beyond bathing water compliance, aiming for a Blue Flag coast of Excellent rated bathing waters. It will continue to build on its successes to date, working alongside Natural Course to improve water quality even further across the entire North West.

*Many projects within the Turning Tides partnership have contributed to this success, keep checking our case study pages for details on work that they have done.

See a map to see what Natural Course and Turning Tide are doing to help our rivers and seas below:

Natural Course and Turning Tides Bathing Water projects